By Karen M. Johnson
The undefeated Giant Moon will try to keep his winning streak alive when he makes his open stakes debut in the $75,000 Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct Jan. 5.
The mile and 70-yard Count Fleet kicks off a series of 3-year-old stakes at Aqueduct that culminates with the April 5 Wood Memorial (gr. I), New York’s final prep for the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The 2004 Count Fleet proved to be an important steppingstone on the Triple Crown trail after its winner, Smarty Jones , went on to capture the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (gr. I).
Giant Moon, a New York-bred son of Giant's Causeway , out of the Capote mare Moonlightandbeauty, faces six rivals and is the likely favorite. After winning his career debut at Belmont Park in September, he emerged victorious in Belmont’s Sleepy Hollow and Aqueduct’s Damon Runyon Stakes.
Richard Schosberg, who trains Giant Moon for owner/breeder Albert Fried Jr., said Giant Moon “keeps us on the edge of our seats,” referring to the colt’s tendency to get complacent in his races.
Ramon Dominguez rode Giant Moon for the first time in the Damon Runyon, and Schosberg said the jockey had more of a workout than the horse.
“The jock was really tired after that race,” Schosberg said. “He said he really had to get into (Giant Moon) because he was getting lazy.”
Schosberg said he has noticed a change in Giant Moon’s training since his 1 3/4-length win in the Dec. 9 Damon Runyon .
“He is sharpening up in the mornings; it seems like he is getting it,” Schosberg said. “The horse is in the middle of a learning curve and he hasn’t done anything wrong yet. There is a possibility that he is going to be a real nice 3-year-old. He’s been on the pace in all of his races, but I don’t think he has to be. I would like to see him off the pace and see what transpires in that situation. I would rather teach him in a $75,000 race, before the purses get a little higher.”
Dominguez rides Giant Moon, who drew post 7.
Roman Emperor, following easy wins in a maiden event and allowance race at Philadelphia Park, makes his stakes debut in the Count Fleet. The well-bred colt has a double dose of stamina in his pedigree: His sire, Empire Maker, won the 2003 Belmont Stakes (gr.I) and his dam, Lady Melesi, is by 1993 Belmont winner Colonial Affair.
Steve Klesaris, who trains Roman Emperor for Puglisi Stables, said the $110,000 Fasig-Tipton’s Timonium 2-year-old purchase is still learning.
“He’s starting to put it together and getting the idea what it is all about,” said Klesaris, who equipped Roman Emperor with blinkers after he finished second in his first start. “I think the farther he goes, the better.”
Spanky Fischbein, the likely pacesetter, was second to Giant Moon in the Damon Runyon and has never finished worse than second in six career starts.
Atta Boy Andy, Barrier Reef, Red Reef, and Run With Me complete the field.